Electoral Dioramas: On the Problem of Representation in Voting Advice Applications

Representation 51 (3):341-358 (2015)
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Voting Advice Applications (VAAs) are online tools designed to help citizens decide how to vote. They typically offer their users a representation of what is at stake in an election by matching user preferences on issues with those of parties or candidates. While the use of VAAs has boomed in recent years in both established and new democracies, this new phenomenon in the electoral landscape has received little attention from political theorists. The current academic debate is focused on epistemic aspects of the question how a VAA can adequately represent electoral politics. We argue that conceptual and normative presuppositions at play in the background of the tool are at least as important. Even a well-developed VAA does not simply reflect what is at stake in the election by neutrally passing along information. Rather, it structures political information in a way that is informed by the developers’ presuppositions. Yet, these presuppositions remain hidden if we interpret the tool as a mirror that offers the user a reflection of him/herself situated within the political landscape. VAAs should therefore be understood as electoral dioramas, staged according to a contestable picture of politics.

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Thomas Fossen
Leiden University


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